SARS-CoV-2, BSL3 virus
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Supporting High-Risk Research with BSL-3 Facilities

Biological Safety Levels (BSL) are a series of protection-related activities that take place in clinical, diagnostic, teaching, research, or production facilities. They are individual safeguards designed to protect laboratory personnel, as well as the surrounding environment and community. The current drive to conduct COVID-19 research and test related vaccines and therapeutics has created an urgent demand for BSL-3 facilities. 

Ballina to Build BSL-3

Our biologics testing facility in Ballina, Ireland has long supported research and testing to BSL-2 standards. The classification has allowed us to work with pathogenic or infections organisms that pose a moderate health hazard, like seasonal influenza, snake venoms, diphtheria toxin, etc. In response to the current global health crisis, we’re enhancing our facility to BSL-3 specifications to meet the growing demand for such facilities. The added barriers and constraints will allow us to support clients with GMP-compliant testing of high-risk pathogens like SARS-CoV-2 and more, as designated by Ireland's Health and Safety Authority.

Scheduled for completion by late Q1 2021, the laboratory's 165 square meter footprint will feature five individual testing rooms. Each room can be individually configured to perform in vivo or ex vivo testing using multiple models (i.e., mouse, rat, hamster, guinea pigs, rabbets or ferrets), in a large array of assays from early proof-of-concept studies, challenge studies, or batch release.

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Understanding BSLs

Ranked from 1–4, biosafety levels are set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and assigned according to the agent or organism the laboratory is working on. BSL classification indicates a standard for which the lab must demonstrate control and containment of microbial and biological agents. Each level builds upon the previous, resulting in layers of barriers and constraints.

When assigning a laboratory’s BSL, the CDC considers the following:

  • Risks related to containment
  • Severity of infection
  • Transmissibility
  • Nature of the work conducted
  • Origin of the microbe
  • Agent in question
  • Route of exposure

For example, a basic laboratory setting that specializes in the research of nonlethal agents that pose a minimal potential threat to laboratory technicians and the surrounding environment are generally considered BSL-1, the lowest biosafety level. A specialized laboratory that deals with potentially deadly infectious agents like Ebola would be designated as BSL-4, the highest and most stringent level.

Why It Matters

BSL-3 laboratories are typically used for work on microbes that are either indigenous or exotic, and can cause serious or potentially lethal disease, like yellow fever, West Nile virus, and the bacteria that causes tuberculosis. Most recently, the demand for BSL-3 has increased with the global need to investigate SARS-CoV-2, the viral strain causing the COVID-19 pandemic. Around the world, researchers are working to improve our understanding of the virus and develop effective treatments and a vaccine.